By AMANDA LOVIZA VICKERY AND MELINDA J. OVERSTREET
Glasgow Daily Times
Jessie Barton will continue to serve the Glasgow Police Department as a sergeant following the conclusion of his unpaid leave on July 8.
Barton was the subject of an administrative hearing Monday evening, where the Glasgow City Council found him guilty on three counts of violating GPD policies and procedures, but unanimously voted to reinstate him to his current position after his suspension.
Barton was charged with violating the GPD's personnel conduct policies regarding oath of office, ethical conduct and conduct unbecoming of an officer as a result of his admission during a federal trial May 1 and 2 that the information he provided during the investigation into an incident involving the Barren County Sheriff's Office had changed over time.
The internal investigation into Barton's conduct was initiated by Glasgow Mayor Rhonda Riherd Trautman, who recommended the council terminate Barton. He has been on unpaid administrative leave since May 20.
GPD detective Lt. Jimmy Phelps, who led the investigation, GPD public affairs officer Julie Anne Williams and Barton were the only three to testify in the hearing, which lasted two hours and 45 minutes. Barton's attorney, B. Alan Simpson, opened the hearing by making it clear to the council that he had requested other witnesses be subpoenaed, and Trautman denied him that right.
The only two relevant questions for the council during the hearing were, according to Trautman, whether Barton knowingly made false statements during a federal investigation into a Feb. 24, 2010, arrest incident involving Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton, and if so, what Barton's punishment should be. No other events are relevant to Barton's administrative hearing, Trautman said.
“Jessie Barton is a good cop,” Simpson opened by saying. “Jessie Barton has always done the right thing.”
When Barton was questioned by FBI agent Mike Brown in 2010 and later asked to testify before a grand jury, Simpson said Barton did not lie, but simply did not tell the whole truth. Barton told investigators he heard Eaton strike Billy Randall Stinnett that day, but did not tell investigators he actually witnessed a strike. Barton later testified in the spring 2013 federal trial against Eaton that he lied, and had in fact seen Eaton strike Stinnett. Eaton was later acquitted of the charge.
One of the biggest issues in the mayor's decision to seek termination of Barton is the inconsistency compared to punishments meted out against other GPD officers, Simpson said. An officer who stole gasoline from the city was suspended for only three days without pay, while an officer found drunk in public was not punished.
Phelps was the first witness called by Glasgow City Attorney Ben Rogers, who argued the case against Barton. Phelps and Rogers read through much of Barton's trial testimony, where Barton said he intentionally lied to federal investigators out of fear of retaliation by Eaton. Phelps interviewed Barton, Lt. Col. James Duff and Detective Tammy Britt during his investigation.
During Phelps' investigation, Barton revealed that he had previously made a complaint to GPD Chief Guy Turcotte about Turcotte's interactions with Barton's wife, and Barton felt this internal investigation was a form of retaliation by the chief. After Turcotte talked with Sara and drove her to the hospital on Thanksgiving night because she was threatening to commit suicide (which Barton later explained was part of a medication reaction), Turcotte then began visiting Sara late at night, texting her frequently and socializing with her when Barton was not around. Simpson had Phelps review Turcotte's text messages to Sara Barton on the stand and then asked whether Phelps thought Turcotte's behavior was appropriate.
“I don't believe that that is appropriate, no,” Phelps said.
Simpson also asked Phelps about a Kentucky State Police investigation into a Glasgow police officer harassing and stalking Sara Barton. The report Phelps saw does not name Turcotte, Phelps said, but there is an open KSP investigation.
Rogers wrapped up his case with Phelps' testimony, and Simpson called Williams as his first witness. Upon questioning, Williams confirmed to Simpson that GPD policy is that no media releases are publicized for internal affairs investigations until the investigation is complete, yet there was a release in May about the investigation into Barton. Turcotte directs what is released to the media, Williams said.
“Anything that I released would have been at his direction,” Williams said.
Barton was the last person to take the stand. While he is not proud of his decision to withhold part of the truth from federal investigators, he said, he did choose to tell the whole truth of his own volition in 2012, shortly before Eaton was set to go to trial.
“I'm ashamed for what I did in 2011 but I'm proud of what I did in 2012,” Barton said.
He had nothing to gain from telling the truth, Barton testified, and yet he chose to do so, and that is why he was facing an administrative hearing.
“I feel in my heart I came forward and did the right thing,” Barton said.
He agrees that he deserves some punishment, Barton told the council, but he has already been on leave without pay for a month and a half.
“I've mowed yards and everything else just to pay my bills,” Barton said.
None of the other officers who have faced lesser punishments admitted publicly to lying under oath, Rogers said. Barton seems to feel he is “the victim of a pattern of retaliation,” Rogers said, leading to his lies to investigators and his accusations against Turcotte, but the heart of the issue is that he lied under oath.
The Glasgow Police Department is facing a systemic problem, Simpson said, and terminating Barton would only hurt the city. Barton is a good officer and a war veteran, he said, and he chose to do the right thing by coming forward to the FBI before Eaton's trial.
“I realize the chief is not on trial here, but the chief is your problem,” Simpson said. “And it's a big problem.”
Among the audience of 40 to 50 people were at least a dozen current GPD officers of various ranks, a few former officers and at least a couple of dispatchers.
The city council members, absent Sheila Oliver and Brad Groce, went into closed session for deliberations at 7:45 p.m. When they returned around 8:30 p.m., Councilman Freddie Norris, who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, announced the finding of fact and what the punishment will be, and the vote to accept those was unanimous among the members present. The mayor, who only votes in the event of a tie and who served as the hearing officer, was not part of the deliberations.
After the announcement, audience applause filled the City Council Chambers where the hearing took place. Several of those expressing appreciation for his keeping his job were members of Barton's family, including his mother, stepfather, sister, cousins, aunts and uncles.
Norris had no further comment after the meeting.
Rogers said that everyone at the hearing did their jobs, “what they should have done.”
“The council felt some type of discipline was appropriate, obviously since they found him guilty on all three charges,” the city attorney said. “It's their job to decide what was appropriate and they did that.”
Trautman said, “We just followed the process that's required of us for a disciplinary hearing and the council made their ruling.”
With a smiling Jessie Barton standing next to him, Simpson said, “We're very happy that we got a fair hearing in front of the city council. Sgt. Barton looks forward to going back to work and doing what he does best, which is being one of the best police officers the city of Glasgow has ever had.”
Barton had said during his testimony that if he were returned to duty, he wouldn't hold any grudges, and he hoped everyone could move forward, which Simpson echoed after everything concluded.
“There was a lot of dirty laundry aired about the chief tonight, so of course there's some concern about retaliation,” Simpson said.
Sara Barton, who was not at the hearing but followed the commentary about it on Twitter, said in a phone conversation later that she was concerned some of the information about her might be misconstrued.
“I was getting text messages, phone calls [from Turcotte],” she said. “I was getting unannounced visits, and I did file a complaint with KSP, because I wanted him to leave me alone.”
Turcotte, who was sequestered in another room during the entire hearing as a potential witness but wasn't called, said he would review the recording of the proceedings and may have comments at that time.
While awaiting the council's “verdict,” the chief's wife, Trish Turcotte said she wished she could have testified, because every instance when the chief was said to have been spending time with Sara Barton, she was there as well, with the exception of the night Turcotte took her to the hospital.
“I know what happened and so does Jessie,” Trish Turcotte said. “It's a shame that after he tried to help them, this is what he gets in return. The issue is what (Barton) did in court; the rest of this is irrelevant.”